Bill Cosby and the Power of the Media

For the past year and a half, media has inundated the public with stories of Bill Cosby’s alleged attacks on unsuspected young ladies. These attacks seem to have a long history and are similar in description. Whether the charges are true or not should be left to the courts to determine, and also the conscience of the women who are in the process of destroying a man’s legacy.  For me, there is a much larger issue at work, and that is how we allow the images created by television, movies and radio to affect our perceptions of a person. For example, in the case of Bill Cosby and his character Dr. Cliff Huxtable, fiction became reality.  Through the consistent images in the script of the Cosby Show, Huxtable and Cosby became one, and the dominant of the two was the fictional character created by a writer in Hollywood.

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Over the years, Cosby has effectively used that perception of Cliff Huxtable, the perfect father, as a platform to criticize the moral behavior of a community that thought so highly of him. In May 2004, at the 50th Anniversary Commemoration of the United States Supreme Court decision in Brown v. Board of Education, Cosby attacked Blacks who prioritized sports, fashion, and “acting hard,” above education and self-improvement. He urged Black parents to teach their children better morals at an early age. Again in a 2008 interview, he accused Black parents of not inculcating their children with proper standards of moral behavior. In one interview he went as far as to say that his saving grace was that he would not be around to witness the total decimation of the Black race and culture in this country. That particular statement captured the elitist attitude of Mr. Cosby. According to his thinking, things were getting so bad that he didn’t want to hang around to witness the final outcome.

Cosby could express these kinds of statements and get away with them because of the amount of respect the Black community has for him, or I should say for Dr. Cliff Huxtable. But much of that respect has dissipated as the cameras are no longer running, and the world now has a glimpse of the real man not the fictionalized version. That brings me to my main point. We are much too vulnerable to the vicissitudes of Hollywood. At any one given time, they have the power to influence how we think and feel about a specific event or person. Over the years, that has usually worked to the detriment of Black Americans. Many of the images that have emanated out of Hollywood have been negative. And we have been their captives since Birth of a Nation painted a picture of Black people as buffoons, illiterates and rapists, while the Ku Klux Klan were heroes coming to the defense of an innocent woman and saving white America.

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The lesson to be learned from the Cosby fiasco is what you see is not necessarily what you get. Through all these years he has been able to hide behind the characters he has created and portrayed. But as the old folks used to say, “what is done in the dark will eventually come out in the light.” It wasn’t until this man was seventy-seven years of age that his devious deeds came to light. Now his reputation as America’s “Dad” is destroyed because the real Cosby could not live up to the high standards of the media-created Dr. Huxtable.